The story of the tablet segment is fascinating. The category, which has existed for many years, became “an overnight sensation” when Apple introduced the iPad in 2010. Now, tablets are struggling to stay in positive growth. They have to date, but it’s touch and go. The category has been kept in positive territory by the new star of the show, which is the business sector.
The slowdown in tablet sales on the consumer side is due to a lack of innovation and the reality that folks’ usage patterns are more like those for laptops, not smartphones. Folks don’t change tablets quickly. This, combined with the devices’ general positioning as companion devices used for media consumption, limits the upside for vendors.
Consumers Putting a Drag on Tablet Innovation
It’s a bit of a cat and mouse situation: Consumer patterns make vendors reluctant to spend money on designing and manufacturing innovative new tablets for consumers. Consumers, in turn, aren’t eager to buy devices that are similar to the ones they already own.
“A lot of it has to do with a backing off by major vendors who are not coming out with a ton of innovation, so people had no reason to upgrade,” said Eric Smith, a senior analyst for Tablet and Touchscreen Strategies for Strategy Analytics.
Meta issues are relevant, as well. Jitesh Ubrani, a senior research analyst for IDC’s World Wide Mobile Device Tracker, suggested that the growing popularity of wearables is affecting the consumer tablet market. Though the two categories do not directly compete, they do face off on one important playing field: the consumer’s wallet.
Smith suggests that the consumer side will reorient itself and that its current slump is temporary. “We think there is more growth to come and we see this as a temporary slowdown,” he said.
Windows 10 and Other Game Changers in Business Sector
The other, and brighter, side of the coin is the business sector, where tablets are faring much better. It wasn’t always this way, however. Ubrani said that initial trials of tablets in the enterprise generated underwhelming results. The drawbacks, he said, involved security issues and lack of productivity features. The exception was in the educational vertical, which was a hit right off the bat.
Now, however, the introduction of two-in-ones and the introduction by Microsoft of Windows 10 are enabling the enterprise sector to take off. Indeed, the current dynamic can make tablets a game changer in some sectors.
“Think about how much is still done on paper in some verticals, such as reading meters or working in an oil field or airport versus how much could be done [using a tablet] on the crook of your arm,” Smith said.
A related change in the growth of the use of tablets at work is, well, the growth of tablets at work. In late August, IDC released research that said tablets are beginning to transform into productivity tools and, therefore, screen sizes are growing. The firm said that shipments of this type of device – with screens in the 11-inch range -- are set to grow 185 percent this year compared to 2014. Other statistics in the report verify the move to larger-screened tablets.
That leads to a case of good timing: Microsoft’s new Windows 10 operating system is aimed, at least in part, at the tablet market. “It seems very possible that the release of Windows 10 will only accelerate the gains made by Windows in the tablet sector,” wrote Lynn Lucas, Good Technology’s chief marketing officer, in response to emailed questions.
There was a small slowdown in the overall growth of the sector as the industry awaited Windows 10. That barrier is past, of course, and the upswing should continue.
“Going forward, we still expect a lot of growth in two-in-ones once Windows 10 is stabilized and once the commercial sector is willing to upgrade,” Ubrani said.
The release of Windows 10 isn’t the only tablet-related item on Microsoft’s plate. Soon, perhaps in October, Redmond will unveil the newest member of the Surface Pro family.
The business side is not growing uniformly. It is moving toward Windows and Android and away from Apple. The trend lines are apparent in Good Technology’s quarterly Mobility Index Report, which tracks activations by the company. Its latest report noted that iOS still leads in business-related tablet activations, but its percentage shrank from 81 percent to 64 percent. Android’s share of the activation pie rose from 15 percent to 25 percent, and Windows increased from 4 percent to 11 percent.
The bottom line is that tablets are an ever-more potent enterprise tool. The huge gains of the early days of the iPad are past forever. That doesn’t mean, however, that a stable business sector with strength on both the consumer and business sides won’t emerge.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.